Insert Title Here

Ok, just in way of a short preface, this story has been an idea in my head for quite some time, one that I have even tried writing before but just couldn’t find its voice.  It has finally decided to lay itself down on paper and the following is the result.  It is rough, but that I think goes along with what I am trying to convey, something visceral more than intellectual and I hope I have managed to capture that well.  Also, I need to point out that while the subject matter is religious to some extent, I am not a Christian.  That being said, I am not really trying to comment on faith, religion or belief with this piece, I am trying to describe a particular point of view of what one participant in a famous story might have thought.  That being said, we shall begin and I do hope that this inspires some reaction in any of those who choose to read it.

The heat was a living thing, beating down like a hammer.  Even in the thin shade in front of the barracks it was stifling, making even the act of breathing difficult.  At the top of the hill three slim silhouettes stood out against the blue-white of the sky wavering behind a veil of light twisted by the furnace air.

Poor bastards.  The thought ran through the legionary’s mind for the thousandth time as he stared out from beneath the awning in front of the clay brick barracks upon which he leaned.  Sweat soaked the linen undershirt beneath his cuirass even in the shade and a shudder ran through him at the thought of how hot it was on the brow of the hill with no shelter or relief from the brutal sun.  They had been up there for three days now, suspended between earth and sky like three grisly scarecrows, stick men clothed in rags of flesh.  No way for a man to die.

A coarse chuckle disturbed the legionary’s thoughts.  He looked over to see his commander and three others crouched in the dirt dicing for a pile of filthy, bloody rags and laughing at the fate of the last one.  That was what bothered the legionary the most really.  The murderer and the thief probably had got what they deserved, may even have inflicted as much agony as they now endured, but the third man hadn’t, as far as the legionary could tell, really done anything.  He was just a prophet or some such of the Jew’s god and he couldn’t figure why this made even the slightest difference to Rome.  So many of the people conquered by the empire had their gods and prophets and as long as they bent the knee to the Emperor it had never stirred this much fuss.

Of course, the man seemed to have angered his own which had got them howling for his blood.  Even the whiff of revolt had sent that groveling bureaucrat Pilate into a fit, desperate to stop any word of problems in his province from reaching the wrong ears.  Standing on the steps of the governor’s palace, washing his hands to placate the mob, telling them they could do what they wanted with the carpenter instead of having the legions out to put them down.  What was the empire coming to when its ministers negotiated with the subjects?

He remembered following the man up the hill, carrying the timbers, back a mess of blood and ragged flesh while the crowds jeered, throwing refuse and offal.  The legionary had almost waded into them to beat them back after seeing the grim resolve with which this man walked to his own death.  He had seen hard men acquit themselves with far less composure on the battlefield and he felt that it deserved a little respect if nothing else.  He would have liked to have seen any of that rabble would do climbing the stony path after receiving the beating this man had and knowing there was only worse ahead.

Still, he had done his duty as he always had.  He was Rome’s man for better or for worse and it was his place to serve rather than to question.  It still bothered him though, that a man should be made to suffer so for just an idea.  He had watched the nails driven in, had helped set the pole upright and fix it in place, the wood of it already slick with blood.  Now the man just hung there, waiting to die, probably even hoping for it more fervently than he had ever hoped for anything before.

Why was this troubling him so the legionary wondered.  He had seen so much death in his time, had caused more than a few deaths himself fighting the enemies of the empire and none had made him question them as much as this one.  It didn’t sit well in his gut, something rotten and ugly that made him almost ashamed of what he was witnessing, of what he was being party to; that a man should go through such pain, have everything taken from him that he had or will ever have just to hang there shitting and pissing on himself until his body couldn’t shit or piss anymore and just rot in the sun.  This man had even allowed it to happen, seeming almost willing to let his pain stand as a symbol.  Maybe that was it, maybe it was that this man was humbling them all with his quiet conviction and no one seemed really to care.  He was dying in one of the most horrible, violating and painful ways the legionary could think of and was doing it with a stoicism that put everyone who could bear to look at it to shame, or at least it should have done, but it wasn’t.  It was met with contempt, hatred even and that was what made the legionary angry.  No one died with dignity, not one person he had ever seen, except this man and his dignity was mocked and that to the legionary’s mind was by far the greater offense than any belief this man had spoken.

Another bark of laughter from his comrades followed by a barely overheard remark about how the king of the Jews liked his new throne decided him.  The legionary picked up his spear from where it had been leaning beside him and he started walking up the hill.  Once out of the shade the heat hit him like a physical blow.  It struggled to blot out all thought and memory into one long, agonizing moment of burning, white, hot and pitiless.  Breath came in scorching gulps but he had marched through worse.  If that lone figure above him could do it before, with his feet bloody and torn, eyes filled with sweat and blood, carrying a burden a well man would find daunting than so could the legionary.  It seemed to take forever, the distance stretching out before his boots until it seemed like he had always been walking up the bald, flinty slope and would continue walking for all eternity.  After a while though the stench came, tainting the hot tin smell of the air with the thick aromas of sweat, blood, shit and the sickly sweet of rotting meat.  The bile rose in the legionary’s throat, but he viciously choked  it back as he had countless times before on nameless and nearly forgotten battlefields.  The smell was always the same, no matter what the manner of dying.  After what seemed such a very long time but really could only have been no more than a few minutes he stood beneath the wooden cross and stared up into the glaring sun at the body hanging limply there looking almost like limp rags over wires.  Blood and dirt streaked the sunburned flesh which was blistered and peeling.  The wounds on wrists and ankles buzzed with flies, oozing puss and a minuscule thread of blood.  The emaciated chest rose and fell fitfully but was the only indication of any life at all. Even though he knew a man could live a long time hanging there, the legionary still found a sick revulsion crawling across his flesh to still find any life at all in something so very pitiful and broken.

He was surprised to find people there, he figured that the heat haze must have obscured them from where he had watched at the bottom of the hill.  The first was an older women, knelt down on her knees with head bowed, the second was a younger woman standing behind the first, looking down at her and clutching the older woman’s shoulders but whether this was to comfort the other or to hold herself up was unclear.  The last was a young, serious man standing just apart from the other two and seeming to gaze both at the women and the man crucified above him as if trying to take in all of the pain before him, making him the witness so that such perfect suffering should be remembered, that his soul should take a wound so that in going from this place others would see that wound and know.  The legionary’s eyes and the young man’s met for one moment, sharing a brief but complete understanding that only two men who know what must be done and are doing it because it must can share.

The legionary looked back up at the man, feeling the grain of the wooden shaft between his calloused hands in a way he never had before.  The man was high up, but the spear was long and the head was sharp.  The legionary kept it that way as a poor edge made for a poor man, at least that had always been his thought.  It would have to go through the side, into the liver just below the ribcage and if he pushed hard enough it would slide up to pierce the left lung and into the heart.  It was the best that could be done.  The legionary braced his feet wide, taking a good strong stance, firming his grip.  He did not know why at the time but he glanced back and down one last time, finding his gaze met by the old woman’s weathered and careworn face staring up at him, eyes raw from tears, painted with the sorrow that can only exist on the face of a mother for her son.

“Are you going to release him?”  The words were a question but it was asked without hope, sounding more like a statement.  With all of the compassion and pity that this hard man could muster the legionary replied “in the only way I can mother”.

He turned back and the world held its breath as he resolved himself to this one moment.  Somewhere in the distance that the rest of the whole world had become he heard men crying “Longinus!!!” but they could not cause him to tear his eyes away or hold his hand from its purpose.  He looked up into the dark pits of the man’s eyes, saw them flutter and open in that last moment and stare into the legionary’s own.  With gazes locked, the legionary thrust hard and straight and true, felt the spear bite through flesh and bone, going deep.  He didn’t blink, nor did the man above him as the spearhead found the heart and stilled it. From the wound only a trickle of blood ran down the man’s side, not even enough to drip into the dust below.  The eyes were brown, rich and deep, wells of profound depth in which the legionary could see thankfulness and forgiveness for not only this act but for all of the bloody others his hand had struck.  The legionary knew that there would be a price to pay for this, that he may even find himself hanging here next, but in that one moment, with perfect clarity he knew that whatever else may happen he had done what had to be done and that it was the right thing.  In the end, how many of us can say we have done the same?

So, there it is.  I hope that someone out there will read this and feel something, that it will touch somebody in some way, even if it makes them angry or offended.  At least they will think the words worth feeling something about.  Thank you for listening and please stay tuned for further efforts.


7 Responses to “Insert Title Here”

  1. blackwatertown Says:

    Just read your interesting story.
    Well imagined – I could feel the heat and dust.
    You might consider not using the word “even” so frequently. It caught my eye as popping up quite frequently.

  2. meganbruso Says:

    Wow! that was something. I was raised in a religeous household, and I went to church every sunday until I was in my 20s, and that was the coolest rendering of the roman solder, I have ever heard of. A++

  3. Thankyou for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting info .

  4. I have always loved this one and have read it several times. I agree with the above comments. Beautifully done.

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